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Elementary School Teacher Career Guide

What is an elementary school teacher?

An elementary school teacher is an education professional who instructs kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade students. They teach a broad range of subjects, including reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. By providing solid foundational knowledge, they equip children with the essential skills needed for their academic journey and for life.

These educators play a significant role in shaping children’s early educational experiences. They foster a love for learning in students, instill discipline, and help children develop values like respect and empathy. Not only do they deliver academic content, but they also nurture students’ growth psychologically, socially, and physically.

Duties and responsibilities

Elementary school teachers are responsible for creating lesson plans in line with school district or state curriculum standards. They deliver lectures, facilitate group discussions, and engage students in interactive learning activities. Specific subjects such as math, language arts, science, social studies, and art are taught comprehensively to students.

They also assess student learning through various methods like quizzes, tests, and assignments. Providing feedback on pupils’ progress is an integral part of their role. These educators also regularly communicate with parents about their child’s progress, behavior, social interaction, and any areas that need improvement.

Work environment

Elementary school teachers primarily work in public and private schools, although some may find employment in charter or online education. Their workspace is typically a classroom, where they spend most of their time teaching, grading assignments, and preparing lessons. There, they interact with students, other teachers, school administrators, and parents.

The work can be emotionally rewarding but also challenging as they manage different student personalities, challenges, and learning abilities. Disciplinary issues and increasing administrative tasks also contribute to the pressures. Many teachers also invest time outside regular school hours for grading, lesson planning, and additional student assistance.

Typical work hours

Elementary school teachers usually follow a traditional school year, with a long break during the summer. Their workday generally starts early in the morning and concludes in the late afternoon, aligning with school hours. However, their work often extends beyond these scheduled hours, as they may have to attend meetings, grade assignments, or plan lessons outside the regular school day.

Extra-curricular activities like coaching sports teams, leading clubs, or supervising field trips may also require time beyond standard hours. Additionally, professional development and parent-teacher meetings usually require evening or weekend commitments. Despite the long summer break, many teachers take summer school assignments or undergo continuous education to enhance their skills and credentials.


How to become an elementary school teacher

This career guide section outlines how to become an elementary school teacher. The path involves acquiring a bachelor’s degree, completing a teacher training program, obtaining a license or certification, and gaining teaching experience.

Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree

The first major step is completing a bachelor’s degree. Prospective teachers should pursue a degree in education or a related field, such as child development or psychology. Some programs may offer or require a concentration in elementary education. During this undergraduate study, students learn about child development, instructional methods, and classroom management.

Step 2: Complete a student teaching internship

In most teacher preparation programs, students must complete a student teaching internship. This internship is typically conducted in an elementary school setting under the supervision of an experienced teacher. Interns have the opportunity to plan lessons, work directly with students, and gain hands-on experience in managing a classroom.

Step 3: Receive state licensure or certification

All states require public school teachers to be licensed or certified. Certification requirements vary by state but generally require passing a teacher certification exam and undergoing a background check. Some states may require teachers to earn a master’s degree within a certain timeframe after starting their teaching career.

Step 4: Gain teaching experience

After obtaining licensure or certification, individuals are ready to start their careers as elementary school teachers. It is generally recommended to start at a grade level and in a teaching environment most comfortable to the individual. Each year of teaching offers valuable experience and knowledge that can aid in future career advancement.

Step 5: Participate in professional development

Continuing education is an important part of being a teacher. Teachers should participate in professional development opportunities to stay updated on new teaching methods and educational research. This can be achieved through workshops, seminars, or further academic studies. Many schools and states require a certain amount of professional development hours each year.

Step 6: Consider a master’s degree or specialization

Many teachers choose to further their education with a master’s degree in education or a related field. A higher degree can lead to increased pay and opportunities for advancement. Specialization in a particular area, such as special education or reading literacy, can also increase job prospects and fulfillment.


How much do elementary school teachers make?

Elementary school teacher salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. The level of expertise, years in the profession, and size and location of the school district are among the factors that can significantly influence compensation.

Highest paying industries

  • Education Support Services – $69,560
  • Elementary and Secondary Schools – $59,670
  • Technical and Trade Schools – $55,930

Highest paying states

  • New York – $82,830
  • California – $80,510
  • Massachusetts – $79,310
  • Alaska – $77,520
  • Connecticut – $75,480

Browse elementary school teacher salary data by market


Types of elementary school teachers

This career guide section highlights the various career types and areas of specialization for elementary school teachers. Below, we highlight the unique attributes and responsibilities of each job title.

Lead classroom teacher

These are professionals responsible for the primary instruction of a single class, typically in a single grade level, subject to the structure of the school. Their duties typically incorporate lesson planning, assignment grading, classroom management, and direct communication with families about students’ progress and behavior.

Reading specialist teacher

Those taking on this role mainly deal with literacy instruction. They design curricula and interventions to help students who struggle with reading, using various techniques to drive improvements in literacy levels. These teachers often work with students one-on-one or in small groups to target their specific learning needs.

Special education teacher

Professionals under this specialization engage students with special needs in a way that fits their individual learning styles. They may teach students with cognitive, emotional, or physical disabilities, developing and implementing personalized education plans. This role may also involve liaising with other education professionals and students’ families to facilitate students’ learning and social-emotional growth.

ESL teacher

Dedicated to working with students for whom English is not a first language, these teachers offer targeted and intensive language instruction. They employ specialized teaching strategies to help students develop their English vocabulary, grammar, and language skills, often in group or one-on-one settings.

Gifted and talented teacher

These teachers specialize in educating students categorized as gifted or talented. They design a curriculum that is enriching, challenging, and appropriate for children who show outstanding attributes in areas such as intellect, creativity, or artistry. This specialization requires a particular understanding of these students’ unique social and emotional needs.


Top skills for elementary school teachers

This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as an elementary school teacher. An individual in this role needs to possess fundamental capabilities such as instructional skills and a strong understanding of early childhood development.

Proficiency in subject matter

A strong grasp of the materials you intend to teach is vital. It isn’t merely enough to understand the subject matter; successful teachers can translate complex concepts into language that their students can understand and learn from.

Innovative instruction

These educators must cultivate effective and engaging instructional techniques. Their role is not just to impart knowledge but to inspire a love for learning. This might involve using creative teaching methods or employing technology to make lessons interesting.

Interpersonal communication

Communicating effectively with both students and adults, such as parents and other teachers, is an important aspect of a teacher’s job. Skills in active listening, clear speech, and written communication are central to this role.

Understanding of child development

An understanding of the stages of child development allows teachers to adjust their educational approach depending on their students’ unique abilities and needs. This is critical when dealing with children of various ages in an elementary school setting.

Flexibility

Each day may present new challenges, and successful teachers must be adaptable. Whether changing a lesson plan at the last minute or dealing with an unexpected issue within the classroom, a flexible approach is key.

Patience

Children at the elementary level are often just starting to understand the ground rules of education. This can require a lot of repetition and guidance from the teacher; patience becomes an invaluable attribute in this role.


Elementary school teacher career path options

As an elementary school teacher, a broad range of opportunities for advancement or change in career trajectory are available, depending on your individual interests and skill sets. This can include becoming a school principal or school counselor with further training and certification, venturing into specialized roles such as a reading specialist or special education teacher, or even branching out into an entirely different ecosystem like educational policy advocacy or youth program management.

The progression often starts with gaining experience in the classroom environment, leading to roles with more responsibility and reach. You might find yourself interested in becoming a lead teacher, where you’ll be charged with instructional leadership and mentoring new or struggling educators. On a wider level, you could aim for a curriculum specialist position, shaping what and how subject matter is taught to the school’s students.

As you continue to grow and hone your skillsets, you might decide to take on a role as a school principal or assistant principal. This transition allows you to influence an entire school culture and operations rather than just one classroom. This pathway requires additional educational attainment, such as a master’s degree in educational administration or leadership, coupled with relevant certification.

The realm of educational consultancy is another pathway you could opt for. With first-hand experience in teaching and learning methodologies, you could advise schools, districts, and even education technology companies on strategies for improving student outcomes.

Finally, don’t forget opportunities outside traditional school settings. The skills gained as a teacher, from communication to leadership and problem-solving, can lead to roles in learning centers, non-profit organizations, or youth-focused community programs.


The field of elementary education is experiencing a surge of change as modern teaching practices and technology influence classrooms. Social and emotional learning is one trend garnering interest in elementary education. As research highlights its importance in shaping a child’s development, educators are designing curriculums with a strong focus on empathy, resilience, and emotional management. Similarly, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are altering learning experiences. These immersive technologies make complex concepts simpler and foster engaging and interactive learning environments.

While advancements are invigorating, veteran educators also experience challenges. The pandemic has taught the importance of incorporating digital tools into teaching, which will continue even as in-person classes resume. The understanding that learning can efficiently occur beyond the traditional classroom setting has compelled schools to invest in e-learning platforms and digital resources. The rapid integration of these technologies opens up opportunities for professional development but also requires teachers to continually adapt to new methods.

Employment projections

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for elementary school teachers are predicted to grow by 1 percent through 2032. Most of the job growth will stem from changes in student-teacher ratios and increases in enrollment. However, job prospects vary by region and are likely to be more favorable in the south and west.


Elementary school teacher career tips

Understand local curriculum standards

One of the key factors for success is a deep understanding of local education standards. These standards guide what students should learn at each grade level. Knowing them inside and out will ensure lessons are tailored to meet these benchmarks, offering students the best possible education. Certified elementary school teachers often receive training on these standards, but it is beneficial to revisit them consistently to stay current.

Develop strong classroom management skills

Mastering classroom management skills can not only create a conducive learning environment but also lessen stress and increase productivity. These skills include setting clear expectations, establishing routines, and managing student behavior. While behavior management strategies may differ among teachers, the key lies in consistency and fairness.

Embrace technology in education

With the advancing technology landscape, many classroom tools and resources are moving online. It is important to be proficient in using these technologies and to incorporate them into lesson plans where applicable. Implementing technology in classrooms can enhance students’ enthusiasm for learning and also prepare them for a future increasingly reliant on digital tools.

Invest in continuous learning

Continuous learning remains an essential aspect of teaching. Laws, techniques, curriculum standards, and teaching tools are consistently evolving – staying informed is essential. Consider the following:

  • Holding memberships to academic journals in education
  • Attending relevant workshops, seminars, and education fairs
  • Enrolling in continuing education or certification programs in subjects like diverse learners, child psychology, STEM, and others

Build a professional network

Networking is a powerful tool for career growth. It can provide opportunities to learn from more experienced teachers, gain new teaching ideas, and open doors to potential job opportunities. Consider becoming a part of the following professional networks:

  • National Education Association (NEA)
  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
  • Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)
  • Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education

Where the elementary school teacher jobs are

Top employers

  • New York City Department of Education
  • Chicago Public Schools
  • Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Gwinnett County Public Schools
  • The Goddard School

Top states

  • California
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Teach Away
  • Teachers On Net
  • LinkedIn

FAQs

What does a day in the life of an elementary school teacher look like?

An elementary school teacher’s typical day starts by preparing lessons and materials needed for the day’s classes. They conduct the lessons, review and provide feedback on students’ class work, monitor recess and lunchtime, and offer extra help to students struggling with certain subjects. They end the day by grading assignments, updating student records, and preparing for the next day. Teacher-parent meetings and participation in school life, like clubs, are also common.

What essential skills does an elementary school teacher need?

Elementary teachers need excellent communication skills to explain concepts and instructions in a clear and engaging manner. Patience and empathy are essential, given the range of learning styles they encounter. Creativity to construct educational activities that maintain students’ interest is also important. They need organization skills for managing various tasks such as lesson planning, grading, and attending to individual students’ needs. Understanding child development and having a passion for educating children is equally pivotal.

What are the emotional demands of being an elementary school teacher?

Teaching at the elementary level can be emotionally demanding due to the constant need for energy, enthusiasm, and patience. Teachers deeply empathize with their students, which might lead to stress when students have personal or academic struggles. The role also invites public scrutiny in terms of test scores and student behavior, placing additional emotional demands on teachers. However, there’s a rewarding emotional aspect in witnessing students’ growth and knowing you have a significant role in their development.

What is the most challenging aspect of being an elementary school teacher?

Among most challenging aspects of being an elementary school teacher is meeting the diverse needs of students. Teachers must adapt their teaching methods to accommodate different learning styles, behavioral issues, and students with special needs. Large class sizes can make individualized instruction difficult. They also face the challenge of meeting educational benchmarks, sometimes with limited resources. Engaging with parents who have different expectations is another challenge teachers often face.

What are the advantages of being an elementary school teacher?

Elementary school teachers can find immense satisfaction in contributing to children’s academic and personal growth. They often form close bonds with students and enjoy the ability to influence young minds positively. The school calendar provides breaks and opportunities for rest that align with children’s school holidays. The profession frequently offers job stability and a supportive, friendly work environment. Additionally, the variety in a teacher’s daily schedule can keep the job exciting and fulfilling.

What kind of preparation is required for an elementary school teacher before the school year begins?

Before the school year begins, elementary school teachers usually set up and decorate their classrooms to create an inviting learning environment. They prepare lesson plans for several weeks ahead, taking into account the required curriculum and individual learning needs of their students. They also review student files to understand their educational backgrounds and special needs. Some schools require teachers to attend pre-school year workshops or meetings as part of their preparation.

How does an elementary school teacher engage parents in their child’s education?

Elementary school teachers engage parents by maintaining open lines of communication. They update parents periodically about their child’s progress, achievements, and areas for improvement. They conduct responsibly managed parent-teacher conferences that can address concerns or discuss the child’s overall progress. Teachers may also provide suggestions to parents on how to support learning at home. Some teachers enlist parents’ participation in classroom activities or school-wide events, which fosters a collaborative partnership between the teacher, parents, and the community.

How does an elementary school teacher manage classroom behavior?

Elementary school teachers manage classroom behavior by setting clear expectations and boundaries from the very beginning. They consistently enforce rules and follow through with consequences. They foster a positive learning environment by praising appropriate behavior and promptly addressing inappropriate behavior. Teachers employ various classroom management techniques, such as organizing engaging activities to limit disruptions and using non-verbal cues to control behavior. Additionally, understanding the individual needs of each student can help teachers preemptively manage behavior and provide appropriate support.

What types of assessments do elementary school teachers administer?

Elementary school teachers use a variety of assessments to gauge student progress. Traditional assessments, like quizzes and tests, are used to measure what students have learned about specific topics. Homework and classwork are used to assess both understanding of subject matter and work habits. Teachers may also use project-based assessments, such as presentations or science projects, to evaluate problem-solving skills and creativity. Informal assessments, like class participation and teacher observations, are also important for assessing overall engagement and behavioral development.